Polito keeps helping O’Connell in run for mayor

Hosting fundraiser; is she behind swearing-in delay?

LT. GOV. KARYN POLITO, who stirred controversy by giving Rep. Shaunna O’Connell a headstart in the race for mayor of Taunton, is now trying to give her campaign an edge.

Polito is providing financial help by headlining an O’Connell fundraiser Wednesday night in Taunton. City Councilor Estele Borges, O’Connell’s opponent in the mayor’s race, said Polito also appears to be blocking her from gaining a slight political advantage by becoming the city’s interim mayor.

Like Polito, O’Connell is a Republican. It’s not clear how close the two politicians are, but the available evidence suggests that Polito has gone to great lengths to help O’Connell in the race for mayor of Taunton. Indeed, Polito is gaining a reputation in the Baker administration for her willingness to reward friends with jobs.

Polito reached out to Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. back in January to see if he would be interested in filling the vacant job of register of probate in Bristol County. Hoye says he took a little time to think about the offer, and then told the lieutenant governor he would be interested. But Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker held off in announcing the appointment until August 5, one day before nomination papers were due in the mayor’s race.

Hoye, a popular Democratic mayor, had said the week before that he intended to run again for mayor, so no one had plans to challenge him.

O’Connell got an early heads-up that the mayor’s job would be opening up, and her campaign for mayor was up and running one hour after Hoye’s appointment was announced. Three Democrats scrambled to get their nomination papers in the next day; Borges, a Democrat, came in a distant second in the preliminary and faces O’Connell in the final on November 5.

Taunton Rep. Shaunna O’Connell quickly joined the race to succeed Mayor Thomas Hoye. (Photo by Sam Doran/State House News Service)

Borges said in a telephone interview that Polito’s fundraiser for O’Connell shows that the lieutenant governor had an underlying interest in O’Connell’s run for mayor.

Borges said the mayoral campaign is focused on local issues – dealing with the closing of the landfill and upgrades needed for the water treatment plant. But she said the helping hand being provided to O’Connell by Polito and Baker is also an issue.

“It’s definitely an issue in the race,” she said. “It didn’t give voters a choice. There would have been 20 people on the [preliminary] ballot if this didn’t happen.”

Robert Jubinville, a member of the Governor’s Council, voted against Hoye’s confirmation (the vote was 4-2 in favor) solely because he was troubled by the politics behind Hoye’s appointment, which he described as a backroom deal.

“This was a deal struck for a certain purpose, the purpose being you give up the mayorship, the rep runs for the mayorship, she’d be the only one in the race,” he said to Hoye at his confirmation hearing. “That’s what people think happened here. That’s what I think happened here.”

Despite Hoye’s confirmation by the Governor’s Council on September 11, he hasn’t been sworn into office yet. Borges said she suspects Baker and Polito are holding off on swearing him in to prevent her from being named interim mayor before the election. Borges said she has secured support from her colleagues for the interim mayoral appointment.

Jason Caton, the acting register of probate in Bristol County, confirmed Hoye can’t take the register’s job until he is sworn in. “The governor or Polito can swear him in and that should happen in the first week of November,” Caton said.

Hoye did not return a phone call.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

CommonWealth tried to interview Polito after a meeting of the Governor’s Council on Wednesday, but aides barred a reporter from speaking with her, saying she was too busy to stop. The aides did not answer a series of questions submitted in writing, but issued a statement saying “all appointees must take the official oath of office prior to commencing service, and that oath must be administered within 90 days of the confirmation vote. It can be administered by any commissioner to qualify.”

Ninety day would be November 11, six days after the election.